Fr. Booth’s “Words of Wisdom”

Getting it Backwards

In blame-shifting individual behavior to the society as a whole we lose the idea of personal responsibility, and in losing the concept of personal responsibility we are losing our moral compass. In losing our moral compass, we have fallen for absolute moral nonsense. Killing an unborn baby is supposedly a right, in the twisted and perverse minds of some it is even seen as a virtue, but having more than one or two children is often regarded as immoral and shame-worthy. Some see abortion as so fundamental of a right that the people must pay for or subsidize the killing of the unborn with federal and state taxpayer’s money. If abortion is a woman’s choice, if that is what it really boils down to as many proponents of abortion claim, then why isn’t it the woman’s responsibility to pay? If abortion is all about choice, then why do the taxpayers, especially those who see abortion for what it truly is, have no choice regarding the funding of other people’s abortions? If a woman has dominion over her body to the exclusion of the rights of another person – the baby – then shouldn’t that dominion extend to the costs of exercising that dominion? If we have the fundamental right to free speech, where do we sign up to receive government money to exercise that right? Or where are the subsidies to worship without government interference? Or the right to freely assemble? Or the right to keep and bear arms? These are actual rights due our citizens, not a supposed right like abortion that has no legal or moral basis, yet they will never be subsidized by the government like abortion is.

Increasingly we are hearing about bailing out those who will not or cannot repay their student loans. Why should the taxpayer be responsible? Having received the benefit of the education they freely chose to pursue, why would we not hold the student responsible for the debt they incurred in obtaining that education? If a man spends $100,000 obtaining a degree in art history but cannot find gainful employment as an art historian, why is society responsible? If a woman pursues a degree in fashion design but proves to have no talent for designing clothes despite racking up a huge amount in student loans, why is she not personally responsible? Why must society as a whole shoulder the blame and the cost of their unfortunate choices? It might be one thing if the government encouraged more students to study art history or fashion design if no jobs in those fields materialized, but those programs of study were freely chosen by the student. And what about the responsibility of the college or university? Who is holding them accountable? When I was in college back in the early 1980s, the chairman of our department made it perfectly clear that he and the other professors had a duty to weed-out all students that were not going to make competent engineers. He said that lives were at stake but also that the university had a responsibility not to waste students’ money and the money of others by awarding degrees to those who would be dangerous or unemployable.

Once personal responsibility is replaced by social or governmental responsibility there exists a huge potential for abuse and tyranny. For example, if the government becomes fully responsible for funding abortion, whose to say that they will not exercise their own discretion regarding which children will be aborted and which will be allowed to live? It is not too difficult to imagine abortions being forced on babies being born to parents having unfavorable political views or other ‘undesirable’ traits. Racism could easily become a factor (after all, Margaret Sanger created Planned Parenthood to eliminate minorities and the poor through abortion and contraception). We must never forget that our government conducted the racist Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment among other atrocities: we are no less or more prone to follow totalitarian ways than the Soviets or Nazis were.

Morally and socially it is imperative that we take personal responsibility for our actions. Ceding personal responsibility to anyone else is not only foolhardy but has great potential for personal and social harm. Each one of us, as individuals, will stand before God at the end of our lives and we will be held personally responsible for our decisions. The government or society will not be able to step forward and take responsibility: even if they could go before God on our behalf, is it at all likely that they would accept moral responsibility?

—Fr Booth